Several cult photobooks by Japanese and European
photographers in our upcoming December 12 auction examine a topic
that has emerged as a new collecting trend: sex and sexuality. Straddling the vast intersection of voyeurism,
pornography, documentation, cultural revolution and female objectification, and
including photographers such as Helmut Newton, Nobuyoshi Araki and Richard
Prince, each of these titles pose more questions than they answer.
For Document Kouen [Document Park], photographer Kohei Yoshiyuki visited two parks in Tokyo, each well known
for nighttime rendezvous, sexual activity and voyeurism. He turned his infrared flash on both
the participants and the spectators, and then finishes the book with a section of abstracted
stills from the free pornography films screened in so-called "love hotels." Commenting
on loneliness, contemporary urban life and the role of sex in Japanese society,
Yoshiyuki stops short of pornographic indulgence, while exploiting the
deep-seated traction of the imagery. As the reader, are we also willing participants in this ritual?
This question goes one step further in Ikko Kagari’s Document Tsuken Densha [Document Tsuken Express Train], which documents, with some titillation, the chikan, or gropers, on the
Tokyo subways. Here the line
between spectator, participant and perpetrator is purposely blurred, and the
viewer is left with the uncomfortable sense of inhabiting each role fully. As in Document Kouen, the infrared flash lends the images a disjointed,
impersonal and yet solidly invasive tone.
Gunter Rambow's Doris, a
title published Germany, is decidedly different in character, and yet also asks
the viewer to question their gaze and role. Here, a vivid, dynamic cover serves
as a colorful gateway to a series of images depicting nude women. The later sections of the book give way
to bold, nearly abstracted, close-up views of women’s genitalia. Is this commentary on the 1970s sexual
revolution or casual cultural misogyny?
Helmut Newton’s SUMO, published two decades
later, depicts the photographer’s nude female models in more visually powerful,
yet equally overtly sexualized poses. The sheer size and weight of this volume repackages the theme, shifting
away from the intimate, soft-cover to the sensational showpiece, while
maintaining the sense of the reader as privileged observer and the women as desirable
The topic of sex and sexuality—which never loses appeal—has
emerged as an exciting sub-genre of the photobook, and collectors are competing for works by some of the most potent and compelling photographers of the
Thank you to Deborah Rogal, Senior Specialist in Swann's Photographs & Photobooks Department, for contributing this post.
Labels: Deborah Rogal, female nude, Gunter Rambow, Helmut Newton, Ikko Kagari, Japanese Photobooks, Kohei Yoshiyuki, Photobooks, Sex, voyeurism